House debates

Monday, 19 June 2017


Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay of All Workers) Bill 2017; Second Reading

10:37 am

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

With the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay of All Workers) Bill 2017 I am breaking ranks with the government, and I do so for a number of reasons. First of all, legislation concerning people's livelihoods and their ability to put food on the table should be considered very carefully. It must be fair and it must be fair for all. This bill is fair in that it is fair for all. It is fair for the people who are most at risk of losing pay under changes to penalty rates. It is fair for people who have already had their penalty rates bargained away. It is fair for small businesses that are disadvantaged by dodgy deals between big businesses and big unions.

Penalty rates exist in awards for specific reasons. They recognise the fact that Saturdays and particularly Sundays are not like other days of the week. These are the days when children are not at school. These are the days when children participate in sporting, family and other activities. These are the days when the majority of working Australians take time off. Weekends are important.

The Fair Work Commission is the industrial relations tribunal. It is an independent tribunal, created by the Labor Party in 2009 and currently headed by a president appointed by Labor in 2012. The person who brought down this decision was also appointed by the Labor Party. In fact, when the Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Workplace Relations he instigated the process that saw the Fair Work Commission hand down its decision on penalty rates in February this year. According to the commission:

… the Penalty Rates decision determined that the existing Sunday penalty rates in the Hospitality,Fast Food,Retail and Pharmacy Awards did not achieve the modern awards objective, as they do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net.

… the effect of the Penalty Rates decision was to reduce Sunday penalty rates to 150 per cent for full-time and part-time employees and to 175 per cent for casual employees, in the Hospitality,Fast Food,Retail and Pharmacy Awards

The commission also said:

The decision reduced the Sunday penalty rates in the Fast Food Award (for Level 1 employees only) to 125 per cent for full-time and part-time employees and 150 per cent for casual employees.

I believe the Fair Work Commission has got it wrong on two accounts. Firstly, some workers have already had much of their penalty rates actually stripped away altogether and, secondly, their decision—the fair work decision—would see some workers take home less pay. I do not believe any workers should take home less pay as a result of legislation or even as a result of some dodgy deal between a big business and a big union. I do not want to see people who work only or predominantly on Sundays or weekends to have chunks of their pay taken away. A mother, or anyone for that fact, who works only one day a week on a Sunday—the only day that he or she might be able to work—will take less home less pay each week if their penalty rates are cut by the Fair Work Commission and its decision, or are cut via penalty rates being bargained away by unions and big business.

In some cases where these union deals have traded away penalty rates, take-home pay on a Sunday is cut in half. For example, the deal done with Vinpac in the Hunter Valley reduced Sunday wage for a level 1 permanent worker from $207.12 to $107.46. How does an enterprise agreement that reduces Sunday pay by a hundred dollars pass the no-disadvantage test, particularly to someone who is only working or mainly on Sundays. There are many examples where dodgy deals struck with unions between 2000 and 2007 reduced Sunday penalty rates to zero. It beggars believe that unions, which are supposed to look after the interests of workers, actually agreed to these deals. For 480 workers at the notorious Cleanevent Australia, the Sunday penalty rate was reduced from double time to nothing. We saw the same thing happen to inspection employees at WFI around the country, at Kanga Foods in South Australia, at Rydges Tradewinds Cairns in Queensland and DJ&M Burns in Victoria. We saw 780 workers at Big W stores in North Queensland have their penalty rates on Sundays cut in half, costing $51.88 for the Sunday shift—$2½-plus thousand a year lost for workers who work only on Sundays.

Right now KFC in Queensland and Tweed Heads has an agreement with 4,229 workers which eliminates their Sunday penalty rates at a cost of $60.65 per Sunday shift. KFC's deal is an example of the disadvantage these dodgy deals have imposed on small businesses because the mum-and-dad corner shop is forced to pay penalty rates for the staff cooking a chicken burger, while KFC pays absolutely nothing. Small business provides a larger share of employment in this country, and it already does it tough without watching unions handball another competitive advantage to big business.

I believe that rank-and-file members of the Labor Party and the Greens would fully support this bill and I challenge the members opposite, and those in the Senate, to demonstrate that they do, in fact, support Australian workers—all Australian workers. I challenge the unions to instruct their members to support this bill and to instruct their puppets in the Labor Party to support this bill. Unions have spent a lot of their members' money on television advertising in North Queensland and country Victoria telling constituents to tell me and to tell other MPs to protect penalty rates. If they truly believe that penalty rates should be protected, they will now spend a few moments of their time and their money telling Labor MPs to do exactly the same thing with this bill.

With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to defer my remaining time to the member for Mayo, who is seconding the motion, to make some remarks.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Dawson. Is the motion seconded?

10:44 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion, and I am very grateful to the member for Dawson for allowing me some of his time to talk about this important bill. I do second the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay of All Workers) Bill—'all workers' bill—because I believe it gives a fair go for all workers and so I supported Labor's bill on penalty rates. The Nick Xenophon Team supported Labor's bill on penalty rates in the Senate. This bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay of All Workers) Bill 2017, negates the effect of the Sunday penalty rates reductions for employees in the retail, fast food, hospitality and tourism industries, as set out in the decision of the full bench of the Fair Work Commission on 23 February this year. This bill goes one major step further than Labor's bill protecting penalty rates: this bill ensures that individuals who would lose their penalty rates and be worse off under a new enterprise agreement can instead revert to the award and receive the penalty rates contained within that award—what is contentious about that? Why should somebody who is only getting shifts on Sunday be out-of-pocket to the tune of $50 or more? Why should workers be penalised simply because they predominantly work on those days? I think they deserve penalty rates, and I think Labor should believe that those workers deserve penalty rates, just as the member for Dawson believes. If Labor truly believes in protecting vulnerable workers, such as young people who can only get work on Sundays or who are perhaps at university or at school from Monday to Friday; or mums who are stay-at-home mums but take those shifts on Saturdays and Sundays while their husbands are at home looking after the children—they deserve to receive penalty rates if those are the only shifts they are getting. This bill goes one step further in that it makes sure that those vulnerable workers are not penalised by enterprise agreements which seek to trade away their penalty rates and which act against their best interests.

This bill is measured. It is balanced. This bill is not talking about existing agreements, or indeed expired agreements. It only applies to new enterprise agreements, so that when unions are negotiating, yet again, on behalf of workers, there will be a better outcome—not just for the Monday to Friday workers who can afford to join the union but also for the most vulnerable workers who cannot afford to lose even the smallest amount of money for union fees from their pay cheques. Mr Deputy Speaker, why should they miss out on penalty rates simply because the union has negotiated away their rights? This is particularly so for those who are only working those weekend shifts. This now sits with Labor. This bill sits with Labor—you are on the Selection Committee; us mere mortals on the crossbench have no power to decide what private members' business is debated in this chamber. If Labor truly believes in protecting every worker, and if they truly believe in protecting the most vulnerable workers in Australia, then they will at least give those workers the opportunity to have their plight debated in this parliament.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Mayo. The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and resumption of the debate will be made an order of debate for the next day of sitting.